The Psychedelic Furs, whose lineup varied substantially around a core of singer Richard Butler, his bassist brother Tim and guitarist John Ashton, came onto the London scene well after the initial punk explosion, but debuted with an album that mixed a drone-laden wall of noise (two guitars, sax and/or keyboards) and an odd adaptation of the quieter Bowie Low-style sound over which Butler rasped his symbolist lyrics in a bored, asthmatic drawl. While the record sounds great in the blur of history, at the time it was belated and too stylistically derivative not to seem redundant. The reissue adds a B-side cover of “Mack the Knife” and a demo for the LP track “Flowers.”
Talk Talk Talk, thickly produced by Steve Lillywhite, displays surprising melodiousness in a newly crystallized style that amalgamates the Velvet Underground, Highway 61-era Dylan and even Revolver Beatles, all given a fresh face and a driving beat. The wall of noise is sculpted to bring the components into sharp relief; Butler tosses off memorable imagery with mock-casual aplomb. The catchy opening track, “Pretty in Pink,” served as the titular inspiration for a 1986 film and soundtrack album of the same name. The reissue amplifies the album’s contents with the single edit of “Mr. Jones,” a discarded version of “So Run Down” and a demo for “All of This and Nothing.”
Butler writes to his strengths on Forever Now. Though the Furs had lost two key members, the others’ increased sophistication — shored up by wisely chosen session help (somber cello, horns, Flo & Eddie) — is orchestrated by Todd Rundgren in a major production coup, best exemplified by the brilliant single, “Love My Way” and the sweetly woozy “Sleep Comes Down.” The reissue adds six live cuts, B-sides and early versions.
(The first three LPs have different track sequences in their US and UK releases. Also, two tracks were substituted for a controversial cut on the first LP and one was altered and retitled on the third. The 12″ Tape is, reasonably enough, a cassette containing the 12-inch mixes of five familiar singles, including “Pretty in Pink,” “Love My Way” and “Heaven.”)
In collaboration with producer/pro tem drummer Keith Forsey (Vince Ely having departed), the Furs turned decisively commercial on Mirror Moves, which is distinguished by a full side of memorable rockers written and played in the group’s by-now-inimitable style. “The Ghost in You,” “Here Come Cowboys,” “Heaven” and “Heartbeat” may not be profound or timeless, but they do show perspicacity and exceptionally well-ordered playing and production. (Prior to the next album’s release, a UK cassette appeared, compiling five singles, including “The Ghost in You,” “Love My Way” and “Pretty in Pink.”)
Mirror Moves brought the Furs to an unrepeatable zenith of commercial/creative achievement; the rest of their career was an anti-climax. Midnight to Midnight gets off to a fine start with “Heartbreak Beat,” a deceptively restrained rocker whose lyrics reflect Butler’s relocation to New York, but then founders amid listenable but low-impact songs. Sparked by semi-member Mars Williams’ metropolitan brass, Chris Kimsey’s production tightens the Furs into a muscular, focused unit, making the shallow material accessible by shortchanging the band’s stylish personality. The reliable “new music” hit machine is running on empty here.
After a long period of inactivity, the Furs finally released a new single (“All That Money Wants”) in mid-’88. A few months later, that song appeared on All of This and Nothing, a career review that wisely reaches beyond the familiar to include equally significant material like “President Gas” and “Imitation of Christ.” Crucial Music, prepared without the band’s involvement, repeats “Heaven” and “Heartbreak Beat” and adds eight other worthy selections (“Sleep Comes Down,” “She Is Mine” and “Here Come Cowboys”) from the catalogue.
With Vince Ely back on the drum throne, David Allen co-producing and no horn players in attendance, Book of Days repudiates Midnight to Midnight without advancing a completely viable alternative. In place of posh, uptempo slickness, the album substitutes a simple, slow-moving guitar roar; if the songs were any good, that might have made it great. But after a powerful beginning (“Shine”), monotony sets in, a richly textured roar that goes nowhere beneath Butler’s weary vocals. Two notable exceptions are the single “House,” which has a real melody and pulsing energy, and “Torch,” a melancholy lament effectively performed on acoustic guitar and cello.
World Outside, colorfully co-produced by Stephen Street, recovers some of the artistic dignity and momentum the band notably lost on Book of Days (the pulsing and melodic “In My Head” and the grandiose “Sometimes” are especially heartening), but it was too late to keep the Furs from finally running to ground. B-Sides & Lost Grooves scours the singles collection for 15 non-album songs, remixes and a couple of live tracks. Among the treats are a version of “Mack the Knife” from 1987, a live “President Gas” from 1983 and an eight-minute extension of 1987’s “Heartbreak Beat.”
Living in New York in the wake of the band’s dissolution, Tim Butler helped Richard attempt to relaunch himself in Love Spit Love, a quartet (unfortunately) named after an art exhibit of copulating couples. An admitted Jane’s Addiction fan, the singer/lyricist applies a sense of that group’s experimental neo-hard rock to his new band’s debut. The overall sound is unmistakably Furry but with an even slicker, harder edge, courtesy of ex-Pale Divine guitarist Richard Fortus and producer Dave Jerden (Jane’s Addiction, natch). But the disc doesn’t lack for variety: witness the British music hall twinkling on “Jigsaw” and the Zeppelinesque orchestration of “Green.” On the pummeling rocker “Change in the Weather” and the goose-pimply reverse lullaby “Wake Up,” Butler has never sounded better. His nicotine-coated growl has, over the years, mellowed into a powerful scratchy croon that shimmers on his most accessible record since the Furs’ glory days.
In the late ’90s, the Furs — in the person of the Butler brothers, Ashton and a few hired hands — hit the concert trail, touring with the Go-Go’s, Echo and the Bunnymen and others.